Jerry Pinto awarded $150k surprise literary prize

Indian author, Jerry Pinto was recently awarded the ‘surprise’ Windham-Capmbell prize of $150,000 (approx £105,000).

Established in 2013 with a gift from the late novelist Donald Windham in memory of his partner of 40 years, Sandy M. Campbell, the prizes recognize writers from any country who write in English. Past recipients have included Pankaj Mishra and Nadeem Aslam.

The prizes have no submission process. Writers are judged anonymously and unaware that they are in the running. Most are genuinely surprised when they receive the phone call from Michael Kelleher, director of the prize.

“I only wish everyone alive could get a phone call like the one I just received,” said 31-year-old American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who received his call on Feb. 24. “I’ve never ever felt this confident, joyful, relieved, or encouraged on a Wednesday morning.”

Pinto is an editor, journalist, novelist, poet, and translator whose work explores the pains of familial and political life. He has written six books, including the poetry collection Asylum and Other Poems and Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, an award-winning biography of Bollywood actress Helen Richardson Khan. In 2012 he published his first work of fiction, Em and the Big Hoom. This semi-autobiographical novel, which Salman Rushdie called “one of the very best books to come out of India in a long, long time,” tells the story of an unnamed narrator’s slow, painful attempt to come to terms with his mother’s bipolar disorder and suicidal tendencies.

In addition to telling a persuasive coming-of-age story, Em and the Big Hoom offers an acute exploration of the impact of mental illness on intimate relationships, as well as a window into the fraught lives of the Goan Christians of Mumbai. “Love is never enough,” Pinto’s narrator says, “Madness is enough.” Pinto’s own work, however, suggests that art might o?er some consolation for the insufficiencies of love.

The prize states on its website: ‘Jerry Pinto’s writing is deeply empathetic, humorous, and humane, drawing on personal experience to tell stories much larger than the lives they contain.’

Yale University announced this year’s nine prize recipients, who are honored for their literary achievements or their potential at the end of February. The writers–who hail from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India, and Ireland–were chosen in three categories: fiction, non fiction, and drama.

This year’s recipients, in full, include, in drama: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (United States), Hannah Moscovitch (Canada), and Abbie Spallen (Ireland); in fiction, Tessa Hadley (United Kingdom),C. E. Morgan (United States), and Jerry Pinto (India); and in non fiction, Hilton Als (United States), Stanley Crouch (United States), and Helen Garner (Australia).